Referees prefer to go unnoticed but often prove to be MVPs | SteamboatToday.com

Referees prefer to go unnoticed but often prove to be MVPs

John F. Russell

— It's one of the most important positions on the soccer field, but this key player isn't a member of the home or away team.

This player will never score the winning goal or make that game-changing save. If this player is doing the job right, the things he or she does on the field will go unnoticed. In fact, most spectators never really notice the referee until they make a call that one side or the other doesn't like.

It may be a stretch to call a referee a player, but most of the athletes on the field know that without the referee and his assistants the game of soccer wouldn't be the same.

Without referees, children in our town, and other towns across Colorado, would not be looking forward to season-opening games this month, and without referees, those players would have to settle for pickup games where they and their friends make the calls.

In Steamboat Springs, the state and across the country, the inability to find people willing to referee games has become a major problem. Over the past several years, the number of folks willing to come out and officiate the game of soccer has been dwindling faster than the snow pack in April.

If the trend is not reversed, it could quickly become a problem — especially in mountain towns like Steamboat.

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"There is a shortage across the state," said Michelle Tripp, Colorado Youth Soccer Association's director of marketing and community relations. "We don't have enough referees on the Front Range, but it's an even bigger problem in the mountain region and in places like Steamboat Springs."

The Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association and Colorado Youth Soccer Association is hoping that a referee training from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday will add to the pool of referees in Steamboat Springs.

Participants can register through Friday but must pass an eight-hour online training course and an eight-hour clinic to be officially certified by the United States Soccer Federation. There is also a fee, but that money can usually be recouped after working a few games.

Local and state associations understand that there is a problem with recruiting referees, and they have been working hard to resolve the issue before it becomes a hurdle that local associations just can't clear.

This year, the pay referees earn has been increased, and the association is taking steps to improve sideline behavior hoping to shield referees from negative feedback. It's a move the organization believes can improve youth sports by making the games more enjoyable for everybody, including the referees.

"We estimate that we have about 2,000 referees across the state," Tripp said. "We need somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,500."

Getting more people to referee the games is not only important to the continued success of youth soccer associations but also to the improve the quality of referees. Tripp believes a bigger the pool will lead to a higher quality of referee.

The key to producing top level referees is through training. To help ensure this, the age when someone can start refereeing games without supervision has been raised to 14. At first glance, the move seems to contradict what the association is attempting to accomplish, but Trapp says that's not the case.

The association is not closing the door on young referees but instead is adding requirements that it hopes will produce a more positive experience.

Those under the age of 14, who want to referee, are encouraged to start with a club program before taking the full USSF course. Players 13 and younger will still be allowed to referee games, but they must have a mentor or parent go to the clinic and work the games with them.

The Colorado Youth Soccer Association and many other youth sports organizations have to be proactive if they want to thrive in the future. Being a referee is often times a thankless job that requires a thick skin, a robust personality and a whole lot of common sense.

As a fan of youth sports, I understand the important role that referees play in the games our children play. I truly believe that the men and women who come out to work youth games have the best interests of the children at heart.

It's hard to imagine they’re doing it for the money, and for those who do the job well, I offer a heart-felt thank you. Something I'm sure you’re not used to hearing.

For those interested in taking part in this year's referee clinic there’s still time. Contact the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association at 970-870-1520.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966